Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Switzerland and the Muslims

Last Sunday, in their referendum, the Swiss voted to ban the construction of minarets. They did not ban mosques or Muslims, just their minarets.

The United Nations called Switzerland's ban on new minarets "clearly discriminatory" and deeply divisive. The French Foreign Minister said, "It is an expression of intolerance and I detest intolerance. I hope the Swiss will reverse this decision quickly." The Vatican condemned and Amnesty International said the vote violated freedom of religion and would probably be overturned by the Swiss Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights.

And yet, is it not possible that the Muslims have only their brothers to blame for this vote?

Last year, Libya’s dictator, Gaddafi, effectively waged war against Switzerland. He announced a halt to all oil exports to Switzerland and a withdrawal of moneys out of Swiss banks. Libya suspended the issuing of visas for Swiss nationals and forced Libyan branches of Swiss companies to close. In August this year, Libya submitted a proposal for discussion by the General Assembly of the United Nations to abolish Switzerland and dismember it.

What caused Libya’s anger? The audacity of the Swiss police: Gaddafi’s son, a man with a track record of trouble in various other countries, including France, Italy and Denmark, was arrested in Geneva and held in custody for two days for maltreating his domestic staff. His sister, Aisha, vowed "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" and Switzerland immediately surrendered; they even sent their President to Libya to apologize.

Could Sunday’s referendum be the Swiss popular response? The campaign against the minarets will have exacerbated xenophobia and racial intolerance in Switzerland. That is unattractive. Is it also understandable?

Monday, 23 November 2009

The US Catholic Church blackmails Obama

Catholic Bishop Thomas J Tobin of Rhode Island has barred US Congressman Patrick J Kennedy from communion. Indeed, the Bishop went even further: he accused Kennedy of “false advertising” for describing himself as a Catholic. Tobin added, “If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things, you do certain things. …If you cannot do all that in conscience, then you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else.” Is this Tobin’s private initiative or does he have the Pope’s approval to send people away from the Catholic Church?

I take it, that in Bishop Tobin’s book, his colleagues who have systematically lied, cheated and covered up sexual abuse by their priests are not false Catholics and do not have to go seek another Church.

Kennedy’s sin is his political stance against the legal prohibition of abortion. The issue has resurfaced in recent days, as the machinery of the US Catholic Church has lobbied with all its might to exclude abortion from the new health care bill. To that end, the Catholic Bishops were willing to let the very poor Americans, who do not have medical cover, continue to suffer.

Just in case you did not know on whose side the Catholic Church is.

American Justice Stinks

A Florida court has just awarded 300 million dollars to a 61-year-old woman who has been a smoker for many years and now suffers from severe emphysema. Philip Morris, the manufacturer of the cigarettes, has been instructed by the court to pay this woman 56 million dollars in damages and 244 million dollars in punitive damages.

This judgment raise moral as well as practical issues:

On the practical side, even if tobacco companies would be dissolved and all their assets used to pay out compensation to smokers – at this rate of awards, very few of the world’s smokers would get compensation. What is this? First in line takes all? Does not sound very fair to me. Secondly, I fail to understand how a Florida jury, consisting of people whose average annual income is most probably less than $50,000, reaches 56 million dollars in damages for a life of a 61-year-old damaged by emphysema.

On the moral side: the most obvious question is what about the woman’s own responsibility for her life. In the USA, cigarette packages included legal warnings about health damage since 1966! This woman continued to smoke to 1993!

What is even worse is the US notion of punitive damages. If society believes – as very often is the case – that a certain manufacturer ought to be punished for negligence or for criminal behaviour – why should the beneficiary of the penalty be an individual? Let the injured get damages awarded to take care of their injuries and let the state penalize those which the court decides to penalize.

Why is it that, especially in the USA, whenever something goes wrong: a) it is always someone else’s fault, and b) one is always prompted to make money by suing someone? Who are the only ones to really gain? The lawyers. American lawyers drive this system. They have a direct interest in the height of the damages as they get a high percentage of the damages awarded. And since the tobacco company will, in all likelihood, appeal, there is more work and more income for the lawyers. They have created a system that stinks.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A conversation in Germany, 2009.

In Munich, as I lay in a dentist’s chair for some emergency work to a broken tooth, a friendly Moroccan dental nurse in her early thirties asked me why it was that everybody spoke badly about the Jews.

It all started with small talk. She was curious about my good German, considering that I was a visitor from London. I explained that I am a Jew and that my grandparents had left Germany in 1933; that at the time my parents were still children but that German was the language spoken in our house in my childhood. Thus, German was a sort of mother tongue.

She wanted to know why they had left and I mentioned Hitler. ‘Ah’, she said, she did not really know much about him but did he push the Jews out? I did not want to get into this conversation and just said that it was rather more than pushing the Jews out of Germany. Yes, she knew that Hitler had been a really bad guy; perhaps to make me feel better, she added that Hitler was no longer around.

But why, she wanted to know, why do so many people speak badly about the Jews. Especially, she said ‘our people’, that is the Muslims, don’t like the Jews.

How should I have responded?

Her personal experience had been good. In her own version of ‘some of my best friends are Jews’, she told me of the generosity of Jewish acquaintances and repeated the question. She really wanted to understand why it was that so many people hated the Jews.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


This is a rough translation of a conversation I recently overheard in a German restaurant:

A: 65-ish year-old man, retired colonel (German army).

B: 30-ish year-old German

A: don’t talk to me about the holocaust. I’ve heard enough about it; especially with everything the Jews are doing to the Palestinians.

B: I don’t see the connection.

A: What don’t you see? Look at them. Look at Bubis. All his money. He owns the whole of Frankfurt. Where did he get the money?

B: Isn’t that somewhat superficial?

A: the fact is that Jews now own everything in Frankfurt.

More on boycott

I received quite a few emails commenting on my last blog, (Why do some Israelis call the world to boycott Israel?) Some of them questioned the efficacy of a boycott. The point I tried to raise was not the effectiveness and efficiency of boycotts. What I am interested in is:

1. Does Israel’s occupation of the West Bank justify a boycott and if so what kind of boycott.

2. Is it legitimate to do as Dr. Neve Gordon has done and “attack” one’s own country abroad?

Uri Avnery, the seasoned and well-respected Israeli left-wing politician and publicist, advocates not a general boycott on the State of Israel but rather a specific boycott on the product of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

He writes: “Some 11 years ago, the Gush Shalom movement, in which I am active, called for a boycott of the product of the settlements. Its intention was to separate the settlers from the Israeli public, and to show that there are two kinds of Israelis. The boycott was designed to strengthen those Israelis who oppose the occupation, without becoming anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic.” See LINK

This is also the thinking behind last week's decision by the Norwegian government to divest from an Israeli company (Elbit) because of their involvement with the “Separation Fence” that is being built on Palestinian land.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Why do some Israelis call the world to boycott Israel?

In an open letter published by the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Neve Gordon, a senior lecturer at the Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheba, called on the world to boycott Israel: “Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians – my two boys included – does not grow up in an apartheid regime.”

Anat Matar, a colleague at the Tel Aviv University, came out in his support: “…only when the Israeli society’s well-heeled strata pay a real price for the continuous occupation will they finally take genuine steps to put an end to it.”

The general reaction in Israel, however, was uproar. Ben Gurion University’s President stated that Gordon’s remarks were “…an abuse [of] the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at the Ben Gurion University”. Moreover, they were “irresponsible and morally reprehensible”. She also suggested: “Academics who entertain such resentment toward their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.”

Not only right-wing Israelis are uncomfortable with calls such as Gordon’s or Matar’s. Gordon admits, “A global boycott can’t help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?)”

Jewish history is a long story of the successful Christian drive at marginalising Jews and Judaism. When that came to an end after the Holocaust, Arab countries started to systematically boycott Israel. For many years they successfully blackmailed their European and other trade partners into boycotting the newly founded Jewish State.

These were boycotts stemming from hatred of Jews and a wish to get rid of them and later from a concerted and clearly stated Arab wish to eliminate the Jewish State of Israel. This hope is still very much a fact of life.

However, when Gordon calls for external pressure he does so as an Israeli patriot and out of love of his country. Gordon, Matar and many other Israelis who pray and hope that the new US administration will force Israel to get out of the Occupied Territories do not hate Israel; they love their country and want it to thrive. They just hate the grossly immoral condition Israel has deteriorated into over the last forty years. To change that, they call for a boycott.

Gordon suggests pressure be placed in a “gradual sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity” and talks of “sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner.”

Is that wrong?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

David Grossman’s Until the End of the Land

David Grossman is my favourite Israeli writer and this very intensive and stirring novel, Until the End of the Land, which I am currently reading, is his best book to date. It has not yet been translated into English. A German translation, Eine Frau flieht vor einer Nachricht, is due out any day and can already be ordered at Amazon HERE

It is the story of a woman, two men and the woman’s two sons. The woman, whose one son is about to leave for a major military operation, cannot cope with waiting for possible bad news. She will not be at home and the bearers of bad news will not be able to deliver the message she dreads. She runs away. Wandering through the Galilee with one of the two men in her life, she hopes to protect her son by talking about him and about his life. No Short description can do this emotionally wrenching novel justice.

I am reading the book at a friend’s house in Germany. In the background, I can hear the chatting of the youngsters, young twenty-somethings, the kids of my hosts. I cannot avoid thinking how worlds-apart life in Israel is from that of these young Germans. Nobody is trying to kill them. Nobody is trying to destroy their country. Nobody has ever tried to annihilate their people.

Can others understand this at all?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Provincial Salzburg

Saturday was the opening night of the Salzburg Festival. They performed an opera I had never heard, not even heard of before – Handel’s Theodora. The rather repetitive music is quite beautiful and pacifying to listen to. But, the music often does not convey the drama of the opera’s storyline. It was beautifully performed with splendid soloists and a wonderful choir.

I am not a music critic and the reason I am posting this story is a Salzburg phenomenon that has always amused me. Whenever one goes to opening nights or premieres at the Salzburg Festival, the narrow road in front of the Festival hall is full of local onlookers who stand to await the so called VIPs and admire them. This time, the most important guest was the President of Portugal. His car, accordingly, was marked “VIP 1”. 

Most of the popular applause, however, is not directed at the foreign dignitary but at B list media celebrities. An aging German talk show host named Gottschalk traipses up and down together with his wife to the joy of dozens of press photographers and the street shouts in jubilation. Not seen last night was Bianca Jagger, the Salzburg regular, famed divorcee of the aging rock star Mick Jagger. The likes of her or of Gloria von Thurn and Taxis regularly bring out the Salzburg hordes. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tour de France

Steve, my personal trainer, told me that he would only read my blog if I would write about the Tour de France. As eager as I am to widen my readership - what can I say about the Tour de France?

I have now read up on it and have learned that the route is 3500 km. long, that some 200 cyclists participate and that millions (I cannot really believe that) line the route to watch the cyclists.

I also know that drugs and doping are rife and have always been used by participants.

I can understand the attraction of drugs but what I don't understand is the attraction of sitting on an uncomfortable saddle and cycling up and down French mountains. Why don’t they just do the drugs without the cycling? 

Friday, 17 July 2009

Pro-Israel Lobby Eroding Obama’s Resolve

In a recent article in the Washington Post, disgraced and currently-under-police-investigations-for-corruption Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former Prime Minister, opined that the “United States' focus on freezing construction in the West Bank [is] an impediment to the Middle East peace process.”

Olmert calls for settlement construction to “be taken off the public agenda and moved to a discrete dialogue, as in the past… allow us to deal with the essential issues: the political process; preventing Iran's attempt to obtain nuclear weapons; eliminating Islamic extremist terrorism...”

Is Israel’s settlement policy not comparable to state terrorism? Should the settlements not, just like the Iranian bomb, be dismantled rather than frozen? 

Why, unless Israel is lying about its willingness to give up the Occupied Territories, does it not dismantle these illegal settlements? Obama could find out. 

Sadly, Obama’s resolve is weakening. AIPAC, the Pro-Israel lobby that succeeds to muster blind Congressional support for any Israeli government, is eroding him. There is no hope for peace, unless the US President disregards this lobby. 

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Unfortunately - Israel is not Iran

The good news is that Israel is a democracy. That – is also the bad news.

Unlike in Iran, the actions and policies of governments in Israel reflect the wishes of the people. Israelis have knowingly and freely voted in right-wing governments for many years.

Unlike Iran, Israel stands no chance of being saved by a revolution.

Put Up or Shut Up

Israelis often claim that they would be willing to give up the Occupied Territories (West Bank) in the framework of a “real peace” agreement with the Palestinians. Should one believe them?

If Israelis really want peace and if they are really willing to give up the Occupied Territories and if they are, rightly, worried about handing over control to an unreliable and unstable Palestinian Authority, let Israel:

• Unilaterally move the Jewish Settlers from the Occupied Territories back to Israel and dismantle the Jewish settlements.
• Retain her military control until a peace agreement is reached between the two sides.

Much would be achieved by such an act:

• Removing the settlers would immediately reduce the friction between Israelis and Palestinians and help pacify the West Bank. Much of the friction is the direct result of provocations by Jewish settlers and not due to actions of the Israeli army. The calmer atmosphere would give peace talks a better chance.
• Once the deed will be done, Israeli governments will no longer be constrained and limited in their ability to act by the ransom to which the Jewish settlers hold them. No longer will Israeli governments be afraid of the civil unrest and disobedience that may be unleashed by the settlers.
• It would send a clear signal that Israel is really willing to get out of the West Bank. Neither the Arabs, nor many of Israel’s friends in other countries believe this to be the case.
• The dynamics of such a truly momentous move could kick-start the peace process. The onus would be on the Palestinians to get their act together and stop prevaricating as they have been doing for so many years.

Unless, of course, those who do not believe that Israel is willing to get out of the Occupied Territories, are right.

Friday, 12 June 2009

German Jews tell Catholics what to pray for

The Central Committee of German Catholics, through their joint working group of Catholics and Jews, has recently produced a pamphlet calling for the Christian mission to convert Jews to Christianity to be abolished.

This German effort comes in the wake of last year’s decision of Pope Benedict XVI to bring back the Easter prayer’s old text. Many Jews were angered by the Church’s return to “Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men.” Some called for a freeze on Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

But, let us face it: according to their faith, for the whole of mankind to acknowledge that Christ is the Saviour is exactly what Christians should hope for.

Why do German Rabbis and German Jewish academics, members of this working group, co-produce pamphlets on issues of Catholic theology? If Catholics believe that their role in life is to proselytise, let them proselytise. If Catholics decide to change their view - that should be their decision. It is their religion and their business.

Fortunately, the Catholic Church no longer has the power to force anyone to convert. It is no longer necessary for Jews to appeal to the Popes to revoke anti-Jewish legislation or actions.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Nazis, their admirers and their heirs

A story:

The ashes of K, who died last month, are being interred in the private chapel of the son of one of Hitler’s top men.

It seems that not even losing the war had tempered K’s admiration for at least some of what the Third Reich stood for. The top Nazis were gone and could no longer be befriended. Instead, K befriended the son of a senior official of the Third Reich. Not having any children of his own, K is said to have left his property and entire estate to the Nazi’s son.

Was the Nazi’s son, whose father was hanged after the Nuremberg trials, grateful for a father figure? Or was it a purely financial affair?

It could be a lucrative line of business for that generation.

Goebbels in Egypt?

This open letter signed by Claude Lanzmann, Bernard-Henri Levy and Elie Wiesel warns of the serious mistake and shame in appointing Farouk Hosny as Director General of UNESCO.


The letter also brings to light an unattractive aspect of the Egypt-Israel relationship: The continued hatred of all things Israeli that is propagated by the Egyptian Government, thirty years after peace had been signed between the two countries.


I am not talking about apt criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. I am talking about a senior member of Mubarak’s cabinet who regularly and systematically churns out anti-Israeli poison. Farouk Hosny’s attitudes, thinking and language remind one of Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda.


Goebbels’ dissemination of hatred was in full harmony with the policy of Germany’s then head of state, Adolf Hitler. The time has come for Egypt’s President to tell us whether he supports these views and expressions of his minister or else shut him up and bring an end to such blatant expressions of hatred.


Mr Mubarak, your turn now.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

My New York diary

God Bless America: A Visitor's Diary is now available at Amazon.

For more information click here

Monday, 18 May 2009

Madonna, Shari Arison, Hormones and the Bank

Being hormone-driven is perfectly fine when your name is Madonna. Nobody begrudges Madonna her ever-younger hunks, whether she marries them or not. On the contrary.


It is not so simple in the case of Ms. Shari Arison, Israel’s richest woman and the controlling shareholder of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank. Arison inherited some 22 per cent of the bank’s shares. Pension funds and other institutional investors own the rest.


Wilful, moody and often pathetic, Arison seems to be especially attracted to men who cause her public humiliation. Thus, she stood by her now to be divorced third husband, as he was tried and sent to prison for sexual harassment and indecent acts. Now, Arison suffers embarrassment and disgrace as she stands by her bank’s chairman, a man she chose and who Israel’s Central Bank tries to have deposed.


Badly advised, Arison will not listen to the old school, serious, calm and much-respected Governor of Israel’s central bank, Professor Stanley Fischer. Instead Arison doggedly stands by her man and accuses the Bank of Israel of corruption, McCarthyism and a ploy to nationalise her bank.


A word of advice, Ms. Arison (after all, you take on new advisors, gurus, healers, coaches and analysts on a regular basis):


STOP interfering in the bank and transfer your assets to a trust and their management to institutional investors. This will give you all the time and freedom to:


DO all the charity work that you really care about and for which you will be respected. As a BONUS you can have as much fun as you like with young, virile macho men that you crave for. Ask Madonna; perhaps her latest beau has a twin brother.


Nobody will mind and nobody will worry about the quality of your decision-making. Just give up running the bank. It’s not for you.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Polish Priest and the Sex Manual

This Dominican friar, Father Knotz, Link was not caught reading a sex manual; he wrote one. Knotz is proud, the Church is happy and the publisher is making money.

In Sex As You Don’t Know It: For Married Couples Who Love God, the friar recommends “saucy, surprising and fantasy packed” sessions.

God, we are told, derives pleasure from married couples doing it: “Every act - a type of caress, a sexual position - with the goal of arousal is permitted and pleases God.”   

So much for my assertion that Catholic doctrine on sexual matters abuses the faithful.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Pope, Moses and a Satellite Dish – The Photo

The New York Times published a wonderful photo of Pope Benedict on top of Mount Nebo, from which Moses is believed to have looked out on the Promised Land. link


The Pope’s magnificent white robe with the mountainous desert landscape background almost carried me away. And then I noticed the cable leading to a satellite dish placed at the top of the hill. 

Pope Benedict and the Holocaust

I was asked whether the Pope did not fail by not expressing an apology at Yad Vashem, Israel's central Holocaust memorial. 

Haaretz, Israel’s foremost daily paper, published an article explaining that “Different factions in the Vatican and in the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, the local Catholic leadership, the Chief Rabbinate, the Islamic Movement, are all pursuing different agendas, and for months already have been attempting to extract maximum political benefit from the visit. Benedict will have to perform a high-wire act, walking above these conflicting interests, without falling into the minefield.” Link

In an editorial that Haaretz published a couple of days later, after the Pope’s visit to Yad Vashem, the paper complains about a missed opportunity. I don’t know what Haaretz expected. A pope will not say what the Jews really want to hear: that the Holocaust was a direct result of anti-Jewish teaching and preaching by Christian preachers, priests and theologians. Anything less is unimportant.

A pope will not say what the Jews really want to hear: that the Holocaust was a direct result of anti-Jewish teaching and preaching by Christian preachers, priests and theologians. Anything less is unimportant.

In the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council and its subsequent documents, the Catholic Church has, after very long deliberations, given as much as it felt it was able to give to the Jews. It was absurd to think that the Pope would, as a little guest gift, produce apologies and mea culpas that the Church had not agreed to before.

It is petty to constantly harp on the Pope’s childhood as a conscript to Hitler’s army or even to deal with the beatification of Pope Pius XII, an internal matter for the Church and Catholics.

Instead of the past, the Pope should concentrate on the future. A true contribution to bringing Israelis and Palestinians to accept each other’s right to live in the area they both claim should have been the Pope’s one and only agenda point on this visit. The Pope should have taken advantage of the colossal public interest during his historic visit and employed the wide-ranging impact of his office for a theatrical act commanding an end to a conflict led by extremists on both sides.

Some might even consider that such a contribution could also have served as the ultimate act of contrition.  

Monday, 11 May 2009

Member of the Israeli Knesset tells Pope: You are Not Welcome.

A friend has sent me an article that appeared in the Israeli press, in which Nitzan Horovitz, a member of Israel’s parliament tells the Pope that he is not welcome in Israel.


Curiously, Horovitz is not a member of the right wing majority running the Jewish state but a member of parliament representing Meretz, a very small left of centre party. As such, I expected him to concentrate his efforts on sorting out Jewish religious coercion in Israel before telling the, at least formally, spiritual representative of a sixth of the world’s population that he is not welcome in Israel.


Horovitz, unnecessarily, hauls Ratzinger’s membership as a 14 year-old boy of the Hitler youth. He also makes much of the holocaust denying Bishop Williamson saga. The Williamson affair is an annoying mishap but it is a mishap. I do not believe that the Pope was aware of the holocaust denial of Williamson when he readmitted him to the Church. Popes run big operations and whoever had arranged for this schismatic group to return to the fold of the Church would not have bothered to report to the Pope that there was a problem with Williamson.


I fully agree with Horovitz that it is wrong to oppose the use of condoms and that especially in Africa this is a significant obstacle in the fight against AIDS. I also agree that gays should not be discriminated against in any area, including matrimony. I do not quite understand what business it is of this Jewish member of the Israeli parliament whether Catholic priests may or may not get married. They are not likely to be his constituents, are they?


My credentials are clear: In Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church, I called for the Catholic Church to be dismantled. But, Horovitz’s personal attack on the Pope is misguided. The problem is not the persona of this man but the institution that is unable to change. 

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Pope between Israel and the Arabs

The Pope, Israel, the Palestinians and the Holy Land

The Vatican has announced a papal visit to the Holy Land: neither a country, nor a group of countries but a loose definition of an area, which includes sites that are holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The decision to include Amman, a city that surely is not part of the Holy Land, is somewhat curious and suggests politics. But politically and, above all, morally, this papal trip is likely to be a missed opportunity.

Why is he going? What does he want? What do they expect? Israel, currently rather unloved, craves the world’s love. To that end, a good visit by the Pope can be useful. Whereas Jewish holy sites are instrumental in establishing Israel’s right to a Jewish state in that part of the world, Israel accepts that its land is holy to Christianity and Islam as well. Any visit by a foreign dignitary, let alone the Pope, to a Christian holy site within Israel serves to validate Israel as the legitimate and responsible keeper of the Holy Land. Israel also hopes to profit economically from increased pilgrimage and a boost to the country’s tourism income as a result of the visit. The Palestinians, even more than the Israelis, crave recognition. A visit of a head of state or dignitary of any other sort serves the purpose of raising international awareness of the Palestinian problem as well as legitimising Palestinian leadership and institutions.

During his visit, Pope Benedict will meet the King of Jordan, the President as well as the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority. Yet, the Apostolic Nuncio tells us that “The Holy Father’s journey to the Holy Land is not in any way political.” Why, in God’s name, is the Pope visiting Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Territories? Unlike most papal visits, this is not a pastoral affair. There are not many Christians living in the territories that the Pope will visit; many have left in the last forty years. This emptying of the Holy Land of Christians is a worry to all Christian denominations and one of the Pope’s aims is to support the continued existence of a Christian presence in the Holy Land. But Israeli rule is hard on the Palestinians and the Muslim-led Palestinian administration has made it hard on Christians. The Vatican’s website defines the trip as a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage, even a pope’s, is a personal affair. The Apostolic Nuncio clarified that “this will be a pilgrimage of prayer for peace and unity in the Middle East and the rest of the world.” Is this enough? Should not the head of Christianity’s largest Church be more forward than just praying for peace, apropos his visit to Christianity’s holy sites? Should the Pope not be on record demanding with all his moral authority an end to the continued war and atrocities carried out in the “Holy Land”? An end to a war that is often nourished by religious, albeit non-Christian, fanatics.

The trouble is that the Pope will not be considered an undisputed and unbiased referee; at least not by Israel. The Church’s history with Judaism and Jews is tarnished. Although, she denies culpability, some consider the holocaust to be the result of almost two thousand years of anti-Judaic teaching and preaching by the Church. The latest incident, in January of this year, the Pope’s reinstating of Bishop Williamson, a holocaust denier, caused a furore and much bad blood. The problematic stance of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis the Jews has been much written about. Less well known is the Church’s antagonistic approach to the Jewish State. At their meeting in 1904, Pope Pius X, who was approached for support by Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, made it abundantly clear that the Church did not want Jerusalem, at the time under Turkish rule, to be placed in Jewish hands. On the question of Jews settling in Palestine, the Church and the Arabs shared the same objective: neither wanted Jews to settle in the land that Jews, Christians and Muslims consider holy. Later, in the post-holocaust period, the Vatican actively tried to prevent the founding of a homeland for Jews. Only in 1993, forty-five years after the establishment of Israel, and only after the PLO itself had recognised Israel, did the Vatican conclude an agreement with the Jewish State. The relationship between Israel and the Vatican continues to be difficult and concentrates on issues connected to Church properties and taxation. If Christian guilt feelings about the holocaust did indeed play a role in the world’s consent to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine, Arabs would be right in begrudging their having to pay the price for what was perpetrated by Christians in Europe. Thus, whatever the Pope will say about the Israeli-Arab conflict is likely to be attacked by at least one of the parties.

And yet, for a person of the Pope’s stature, to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories without employing all the weight of his office for change is morally unacceptable. Instead of a silent prayer for peace, the Pope could borrow Isaiah’s words “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” In a theatrical and, for this Pope, untypical act the Pope could loudly cry out to God and appeal to men to put an end to the dispute, which has caused so much bloodshed. He must call for compromise and insist that this is the only moral solution, whatever is claimed by religious fanatics on either side. This Pope, who is more theologian than charismatic, should put some charisma into this effort.

Simply to satisfy his personal need for a pilgrimage cannot be enough.